After countless hours of planning, all event professionals can do in the minutes before the doors open to their event is try to breathe, and stay calm. But it's hard to breathe steadily knowing that attendees are relying on your team to keep them engaged, entertained (and fed).
Stress is inevitable in the weeks, days, and hours before the event kicks off, but experienced event pros should trust that their preparation will pay off. We caught up with a couple event pros to find out how they prevent last-minute, stress-inducing disasters and alleviate game-day jitters.
When it's all said and done, event pros do what they do to create meaningful experiences. And a can-do attitude is key to making (almost) anything happen.
But, it's crucial to know when to say "no."It's hard to think of something that a client can throw at you that's impossible," says Jennifer Wollerman, executive producer and general manager at event production agency Ray Bloch Productions. "We try to never say no, unless it will introduce unacceptable risk. It's a constant balance of finding the threshold where you cross over into an unacceptable risk, and it's an event producer's role to know and understand that.
"There's a time and place for bold ideas: during the early planning stages of an event. Even the most seasoned pros enter risky territory when they try to execute bold ideas at the last minute.
"I tend to bring unconventional ideas to our corporate clients, and when I do, I've learned to introduce those ideas early in the planning stages," says Liron David, founder and executive producer of event planning company Eventique. "[Otherwise,] I've sold this crazy idea and now the client is counting on me to make it work.
"Plan as far ahead as possible, and your craziest idea can be your biggest success.
Here are a few big questions to think about throughout the process, especially for large events:
1 year out
- What is the theme you will rally around?
- Who will you target as the top-billed keynote speakers?
- What will you do to make this event better than the previous year?
6 months out
- What speakers can you add to spark some new excitement?
- What external events (parties, happy hours, sports events) can you add to the agenda to sweeten the deal?
1 month out
- Are there any realistic but unexpected additions or surprises you can announce that re-energize your registrants and potential registrants who are still on the fence?
Rely On Your Team
Large-scale events have many working parts, and they'll collapse without a strong team at the center. Your team should be the final check on every detail so you have full control of the outcome. For example, the more sponsors at an event, the more setup required and the more opportunity for issues to arise.
New York-based event and conference consultant Lysa Price prevents mishaps by requesting that sponsors send all of their materials in advance and rent any electronics they might need directly from the venue. If the sponsor isn't able to get to the venue in time to set up, Price's team can step in and have everything ready for start time.
Katharine Panessidi, vice president of content and programming at global event organizer Comexposium, says her team gathers for all-hands meetings not just before an event, but periodically throughout it to share and solve problems as they crop up.
Don't Forget Your Run of Show
Many event pros rely on a run of show document that outlines every moment of an event to keep their team—and everyone else involved, including clients—on the same page."Have a living, fluid document visualizing every step of the program, and review it on-site as a team right before the event actually happens," Brian Urquhart, director of strategic partnerships for marketing conferences ad:tech and iMedia North America, says about his team's run of show.
Comexposium's Panessidi agrees. "Run of show printouts are my most vital tool at the final stage,” she says, adding that she waits until the last minute to print and distribute them so every last-minute tweak is included.
Here are a few resources to help you create a run of show at your event:
- This guide covers all the elements you will need in your run of show
- ShoFlo is a run of show software solution for really large scale events
- There’s even an online course offered by the Event Leadership Institute
Be More Proactive than Reactive
There's nothing like an emergency at the eleventh hour to throw everything off balance. But with the right planning techniques, most crises can be prevented.Price and her team keep a detailed timeline from the moment they start planning a new event. At their weekly meetings, they add to the timeline, check off tasks, rearrange deadlines and delegate tasks to each team.
Aside from keeping her team organized, there's other benefits to this approach. "The great thing about keeping a timeline is I can go back to the beginning at the last minute to see if there's anything we missed," she says. "And as the project manager, I'm not always in every team's meeting, but I still have to know what's going on in every department. The timeline shows it all."